Dr. Elizabeth Klodas, a veteran Edina cardiologist, has long been wary of the pop-a-drug approach to fighting high cholesterol and heart disease.
“In medicine, we’ve devolved into treating the symptoms of the underlying disease, poor nutrition,” Klodas said recently. “I’m astounded every day by what people tell me they eat. Two doughnuts for breakfast? And one patient drank six bottles of Coke during the day … and dinners out of a box? No fresh fruits or vegetables? How can you expect to be healthy?”
She said, “There’s no amount of medication that I can prescribe to offset that. If I put you on cholesterol-lowering medication and you’re eating food high in cholesterol, what good are we doing?”
To be sure, Klodas prescribes drugs to patients who need them, but it can be “really hard for people and they often end up on a whole bunch of medications, ” the doctor said. And those medications may have side effects and long-term consequences.
“Food is the next new thing,” said Klodas, who preaches improved diets and physical activity for those in heart trouble whether through genetics or a sedentary lifestyle and bad diet.
Yet even when people know that they should eat better foods, they often don’t because they’re too busy or too hooked on fast food to evolve to heart-heathy, unprocessed foods.
“It’s hard to get these good things into a diet unless you are thoughtful and vigilant,” said Klodas, also the author of a book called “Slay the Giant: the Power of Prevention in Treating Heart Disease” and a founding editor of www.cardio smart.org, an education effort of the American College of Cardiology. “Even foods labeled ‘heart healthy’ can give you a false sense of security.”
Two years ago, Klodas, frustrated with the inability of many patients to overhaul their diets, joined with business partners and investors to launch Step One Foods (www.steponefoods.com).
The products include chocolate bars, cranberry nut bars, oatmeal, a smoothie mix and a “sprinkle” topping that includes dried cranberries, apple juice concentrate, sunflower oil, flaxseed, oat bran, wheat germ, walnuts, chia seed and raisins. Each product contains key levels of what Klodas said are four critical nutritional building blocks for heart health: phytosterols, antioxidants, omega-3 fatty acids and fiber.
And, in a nod to a convenience-obsessed culture, everything is packaged by serving and no preparation is required.
“The first step was to make it easy … to meet people where they are at,” Klodas said. “But instead of eating a plain bagel in the morning with white refined flour and a Snickers bar in the afternoon, you have our pancakes and our chocolate bar in the afternoon. If you did that for a year and nothing else, you would lose 18 pounds and consume a cup less salt.
“Our foods are made from real whole ingredients … that are proven in the scientific literature to have positive effects on cardiovascular health.”
A box of 12 cranberry nut bars costs $27. But that’s a lot of nutrition in one $2-plus serving compared with $5 for a cup of coffee and a sweet roll.
Robert Kirscht, 48, a financial services manager from Edina, has a family history of heart disease. He wrestled with high cholesterol when, despite moderate exercise and “a more heart-healthy diet,” that included less meat, his doctor suggested he start a cholesterol-reducing statin last summer.
Instead, Kirscht, at the suggestion of a friend, started eating Step One bars, the sprinkles and smoothies, which came in handy on frequent business trips. Kirscht’s total cholesterol has dropped to an acceptable level and his HDL cholesterol, the so-called good cholesterol, has risen.
His doctor was impressed. No drugs were issued.
“I just ate the products,” said Kirscht, who describes himself as “a few extra pounds” heavy, but a guy who is eating and feeling better, and walks and swims.
“I just try to maintain an active lifestyle. I spend a few dollars a day on the products. About what you’d spend on other kinds of nutrition bars.”
Step One, whose three founders include food-industry veteran Barbara Birr, operates from a small plant in St. Louis Park and includes several employees and contract workers.
William Alldredge, the company’s chief financial officer, declined to disclose annual revenue, but said Step One has doubled in sales over the last year.
Klodas and other investors, including friends and family, have raised $800,000 to date to get the company up and running. Alldredge said Step One has received additional support from WomenVenture, the nonprofit consultant to women-owned businesses. The company also has established a relationship with Canada’s Manitoba province to fund research and new-product development.
Klodas called Step One a “mission-driven” business that she hopes will make a buck.
“Long term, it’s about seeing this approach expand,” Klodas said. “And maybe we’ll be acquired by a food or pharmaceutical company that sees this as an adjunct to care. I’m a physician, not someone with aspirations to run a global food company.”